At Oversight Hearing, GOP Senators Press NTIA Chief on Rate Regulation, Net Neutrality

Senators on Thursday said NTIA rules set regulated rates and impose net neutrality requirements.

At Oversight Hearing, GOP Senators Press NTIA Chief on Rate Regulation, Net Neutrality
Photo of Senator John Thune

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2022 – Senators at Thursday’s Oversight Committee of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration expressed concern that the agency’s rules under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act do not meet Congress’s bipartisan wishes regarding regulated rates, net neutrality and wastefulness.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said that some provisions in the notice of funding opportunity issued last month “disregard Congress’s intent with heavily regulated rates,” and said that the rules were in opposition to statutory prohibitions on rate regulation.

Alan Davidson, NTIA administrator and sole witness at the hearing, responded that affordability is a key goal of the rules. “We have looked at different ways to make sure that we are promoting affordability while still giving states the flexibility to approach it in the ways that are appropriate for their state.”

The provisions regarding providing a low-cost broadband option in the regulations  in place to assure affordability for under or unserved communities, said Davidson.

Furthermore, he said, they do not state specific acceptable rates.

Thune further raised concerns that the NOFO prohibits subgrantees to impose “unjust or unreasonable network management practices.” He said that was a law regarding net neutrality practices, and he said that Congress had specifically excluded that from the IIJA.

Davidson replied that the provision is not a net neutrality requirement. Net neutrality is a “much broader concept” than is covered by the provision, he said.

“There are other agencies and organizations, parts of government, that are the right place to approach the net neutrality issue,” said Davidson. “This is not our role.”

Fact-checked maps are essential

The hearing further highlighted the importance of updated Federal Communications Commission maps to achieving IIJA’s goal of reaching all underserved areas while avoiding wasteful overbuilding.

Sens. Thune and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., both urged the NTIA to use completed and challenged-checked FCC maps for grant allocation – rather than preliminary versions of the maps.

“Past NTIA efforts have wasted precious tax dollars overbuilding in existing networks while not reaching the goal of reaching broadband to unserved communities,” said Wicker. “We do not want to make the same mistakes again.”

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